NEARLY 8,000 square miles of lost British oyster reefs are set to be restored as part of a million-pound conservation project.

Oyster populations around the coast of the UK will be given a boost by the move to help native species return to the seabed at three major locations.

The restoration project will see the recreation of 7,722 square miles of oyster habitats that have been lost from around the coastline of Britain. 

A fund of £1,180,000 has been awarded to the Zoological Society of London, the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and British Marine as part of the biggest project of its kind in the UK.

It will help the ‘Wild Oysters’ project to recover the native oyster populations which will in turn see cleaner water, healthier fisheries and plentiful marine biodiversity in Britain, experts say.

Across the UK wild native oysters have declined by over 95 per cent, with the dramatic decrease due to a combination of over-harvesting, habitat loss, pollution and disease, scientists said.

However, healthy oyster beds are hugely productive and help a rich biodiversity of associated species to thrive.

They provide an important fish nursery habitat, support important species such as seabass, bream and edible crabs, conservationists said.

The reintroduction will see Oyster nurseries suspended under marina pontoons to release the next generation of baby oysters to the seabed. 

The young oysters, known as spat, will settle across the three oyster reefs created across British Estuaries including the River Conwy in Wales, Scotland's Firth of Clyde and Tyne and Wear coastal water body. 

The oyster nurseries will provide a “unique window into the ocean” which the project’s backers hope will allow them to inspire the next generation to protect and enhance the marine environment, experts said. 

Alison Debney, ZSL senior conservation programme manager, said: “It’s wonderful to celebrate this win for oysters on World Oyster day - they are the superheroes of our oceans. 

"Despite their small size they’re capable of making huge changes in our marine environment.  

“Our dream is to grow a self-sustaining population of native oysters in the UK. 

"This funding awarded by Postcode Dream Trust means we now have the potential to release nine billion native oyster larvae into the ocean creating oyster nurseries in UK waters, work with local communities to care for our oceans superheroes and connect people and wildlife.   

“Thanks to players of People's Postcode Lottery we hope to see healthy, resilient, coastal waters and make a remarkable difference to the future of wild oysters.” 

The ‘Wild Oysters’ project will work with thousands of volunteers, from schools, girl guides and scouts, university students and local community groups to spread the word about the importance and significance of increasing the oyster population.  

Morven Robertson, BLUE's senior UK project manager, said: “Our oceans are our lifeline, they are capable of absorbing over a third of our CO2 emissions, but they are in crisis. Marine life populations are continuing to decline at a rapid rate. 

"The incredible support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery marks a turning point for the recovery of UK seas and native oyster restoration. 

"The Wild Oysters project will set a global precedent for the restoration of oysters and will help our ocean to breathe once again.” 

The funding has been raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and awarded as part of the Dream Fund, which gives charities the opportunity to bring a dream project to life. 

Last month, another beneficiary of funding from the Dream Fund was Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust who received more than £1 million to fund a wilding project to introduce bison to British woodland.